F.A.A. Regulations Slow Drone Innovation

(p. B2) Chinese aviation administrators, . . . , have already approved drone deliveries by the e-commerce giant JD.com and delivery giant SF Holding Co. But in the United States, it will depend on whether regulators eventually allow drone companies to have autonomous systems in which multiple aircraft are overseen by one pilot and whether they can fly beyond the vision of that pilot. Current regulations do not permit multiple drones per operator without a waiver. Operators like Wing, the drone-delivery company owned by Google parent Alphabet, have that capability.

. . .

Wing is . . .  one of several companies participating in a pilot program in Virginia. As with its testing in Finland and Australia, Wing will focus on the delivery of consumer goods, including food.

The Virginia site, in Blacksburg, near Virginia Tech, is one of 10 chosen by the Federal Aviation Administration as part of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.

The 10 were culled from 149 applications from “state, local and tribal governments,” agency spokesman Les Dorr said in an email. Those in the industry didn’t apply directly, but could show their interest, he said, and more than 2,800 companies responded.

. . .

While the F.A.A. has chosen the 10 pilots, the programs still need to apply for agency waivers because they will fly beyond the visual line of sight, fly at night and fly over people, fundamentals not allowed under current law. The agency is seeking comments on expanding permissible uses under current law; it is also testing to evaluate the parameters of regulation.

As a practical matter, this means that some of the pilot programs are not yet operational as they await F.A.A. approval.

That’s O.K., said James Pearce, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which prefers to ensure that the drones can safely fly and that those on the ground are not exposed to any risks, including those that are self-inflicted. “We need to make sure that people know not to try to grab the drones.”

. . .

While the deliberate pace may seem slow, Mr. Levitt, like others interviewed, remains sanguine. “It’s like the red flag laws when cars began to populate the roads. You had to have someone walking ahead with a flag to warn others. That’s where we are today with drones — not being able to fly beyond the visual line of sight is like not allowing a car to drive faster than a person can walk.”

For the full story, see:

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(Note:  the online version of the story has the date March 19, 2019, and has the title “Skies Aren’t Clogged With Drones Yet, but Don’t Rule Them Out.”)

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